The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane

The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane

The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane

The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane


Until his death in 1877, Brigham Young guided the religious, economic, and political life of the Mormon community, whose settlements spread throughout the West and provoked a profound political, legal, and even military confrontation with the American nation. Young first met Thomas L. Kane on the plains of western Iowa in 1846. Young came to rely on Kane, 21 years his junior, as his most trusted outside adviser, making Kane the most important non-Mormon in the history of the Church. In return, no one influenced the direction of Kane's life more than Young. The letters exchanged by the two offer crucial insights into Young's personal life and views as well as his actions as a political and religious leader. The Prophet and the Reformer offers a complete reproduction of the surviving letters between the Mormon prophet and the Philadelphia reformer. The correspondence reveals the strategies of the Latter-day Saints in relating to American culture and government during these crucial years when the "Mormon Question" was a major political, cultural, and legal issue. The letters also shed important light on the largely forgotten "Utah War" of 1857-58, triggered when President James Buchanan dispatched a military expedition to ensure federal supremacy in Utah and replace Young with a non-Mormon governor. This annotated collection of their correspondence reveals a great deal about these two remarkable men, while also providing crucial insight into nineteenth-century Mormonism and the historical moment in which the movement developed.


On July 11, 1846, a 24-year-old, diminutive, sickly, and elite Philadelphian arrived in a refugee camp on the plains of western Iowa to visit the Mormons who had been forcibly expelled from Illinois that year. The unlikely visitor, Thomas L. Kane, had not stumbled upon the Mormon camps by chance. Two months earlier, Kane had met Jesse C. Little, an agent dispatched by Mormon leader Brigham Young to lobby for government support for the Latter-day Saints. An aspiring social reformer, Kane believed that a relationship with the Mormons would prove mutually advantageous. Sympathizing with the Mormons’ plight, he thought that a book recounting their woes would help their cause and establish his reputation as an author and humanitarian. He further dreamed that accompanying the Mormons to California, their purported destination, would open political doors for him, possibly even the governorship, once California entered the United States. As he confided to a brother, he hoped “to help the poor Mormons to my utmost, principally—but also to help myself if I see anything outstanding.” There may have been something else that prompted his visit. Kane would later claim to have been part of a “little state secret,” known only to a handful of men, perhaps a role in President James K. Polk’s schemes to expand American borders.

Six weeks prior to his arrival in the Mormon camps, Kane had drawn upon his father’s extensive political connections to assist Little in persuading Polk and his cabinet to commission a regiment of Mormon soldiers for the Mexican–American War. An army officer, who had arrived in the makeshift Mormon settlements a few days before Kane to recruit the soldiers, had

1. Thomas L. Kane to Elisha K. Kane, May 27, 1846, Thomas L. Kane Papers, APS.

2. Kane to Elizabeth Wood, May 19–21, 1852, Kane Collection, BYU.

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